QA or the Highway 2015 – Speaker Series – Featuring Jim Holmes

QA or the Highway

The one day testing conference, QA or the Highway 2015, is scheduled for February 17th, 2015 in Columbus, Ohio.

There are some excellent tracks and speakers listed for the event.  I thought I would reach out to those speaking at the event and ask them a few questions.  A number of the speakers graciously took time out of their schedule to respond.  Leading up to the conference, I will be featuring those speakers and their responses.

The first speaker to respond (and in record time) was Jim Holmes.  Today he has the honor of kicking off the “QA or the Highway 2015 – Speaker Series.”


1. What attracted you to speaking at QA or the Highway?

I’ve been involved in a lot of the region’s developer conferences; finding a tester’s conference here was great!

2. What are you most looking forward to at this year’s conference?

There are a number of great sessions on the schedule, but I’m most looking forward to finding some great hallway conversations—that’s always the best part of any conference for me.

3. What piece of advice would you give conference attendees to maximize their experience at QA or the Highway?

Jump out of your comfort zone. Don’t just attend sessions that are in your wheelhouse. Find something that will broaden your horizons, or better yet make you start asking new questions.

4. How did you become involved in testing?

Time. Not enough of it. My first jobs in IT were around network and server management, so I ended up writing a lot of scripts to do various small tasks. I didn’t have a solid coding background, so usually the scripts were rather bug-ridden if they were handling anything complex—and I didn’t really have time to spend debugging things endlessly.

That experience with my own bad scripts sparked an interest in how I could better deliver useful things (to myself, in this case). That interest continued to grow as I moved into different roles in actual software delivery. It drove me to learn more about test automation, long before JUnit or NUnit were on the scene. It also drove me to learn more about what real testing was (NOT SCADS OF DOCUMENTATION AND TEST CASES!), and how to be more effective at it.

That low-level focus evolved into moving up a few layers to look at how testing fits into an overall pipeline of delivering quality and value to organizations.

It’s been a fun journey!

5. What are some of you favorite tools in your “testing toolbox”?

This is where I’m supposed to say “my brain and an innate sense of curiosity,” right?

Those soft skills things *are* critical, but I’m also a tool geek, so much so that I once wrote a long-outdated 1,300 page book on tools for developers! With that in mind there are several things I use on a regular basis when testing.

A good scripting platform like Ruby or Python is critical for me to handle setting up test data, creating other prerequisites, or configuring the system. Some testers get freaked out thinking “I’m not a developer! I can’t do that!” Yes, yes, you can. Scripting is vastly different from programming, and it’s a skill every competent tester needs to have in their belt, in my opinion. That’s “needs to,” not “should.” I feel strongly about it! Scripting helps you save time, makes things more repeatable, and is frankly a lot of fun!

There are scads of little utilities I’ll use to capture test or system state: a good screen capture tool (I use SnagIt), a video capture tool (Camtasia), etc.

I also use Fiddler to capture network traffic when doing web testing, but I’m far from proficient with it.

SlickRun is a great launcher utility that lets me configure hotkeys to launch scripts, other tools, or do various tasks. It’s also got a great scratch pad that pops up and lets me take notes quickly and easily.

Finally, I’ve used mind maps for years in various jobs, but I think they’re great for both planning and recording testing activities. I’ll scratch out a rough plan of what I want to test, then use another map when documenting things as I’m rolling along. There are a number of great mind map tools ranging from free to paid. I’ve used MindJet, XMind, MindNode, MindMUP, and several others. Give them a spin and see which works for your needs.

6. What are your favorite reading references (books/blogs/etc) that have helped your testing efforts?

I’ve been inspired and had my thinking dramatically altered by a number of folks over the years: Alan Page, Trish Khoo, Smita Mishra, Dave Haeffner, Richard Bradshaw, Cem Kaner, Jim Evans, Paul Carvalho. All of them are on Twitter; most have blogs you can easily find.

I’m not a great fan of his, but James Bach’s writing on testing is quite provoking. His partner Michael Bolton also writes extensively and has some extraordinarily insightful columns on his blog.

The books by Markus Gaertner, Elisabeth Hendrickson, Lisa Crispin, and Janet Gregory have all impacted me in tremendous ways. Elisabeth’s ExploreIt! gave me a much-needed kick in the pants to step up my exploratory skills.

Roy Osherove’s Art of Unit Testing books (different platforms) should be must-read for all teams. Yes, they’re focused on what we generally think of as “developer testing,” however, there’s great ideas about testing in general there.

Beautiful Testing, The Art of Agile, The Passionate Programmer, and Peopleware have all been extremely impactful to me as well.

7. Would you like to add any advice for testers?

Be thoughtful in what you do. Learn to appreciate that we testers don’t “Assure” anything. Our role is to help business owners and stakeholders make informed decisions on the state of the systems they’re using to run their organizations. That mindset took me a long time to evolve to, but it’s been a terrific journey!

Jim will be speaking on the topic of “Developer/Tester Collaboration: The Practical Side”.

You can find Jim’s speaker bio, session information, or more information about QA or the Highway 2015 by going to any of the following links:

You can also find Jim online at the following locations:

Twitter: @aJimHolmes
Blog: FrazzledDad/